“That’s how the genetic manipulation experiment was born. It takes several generations for any kind of genetic manipulation to manifest, but people were selected from the general population in large numbers, according to their backgrounds or behavior, and they were given the option to give a gift to our future generations, a genetic alteration that would make their descendants just a little bit better.”
I look around at the others. Peter’s mouth is puckered with disdain. Caleb is scowling. Cara’s mouth has fallen open, like she is hungry for answers and intends to eat them from the air. Christina just looks skeptical, one eyebrow raised, and Tobias is staring at his shoes.
I feel like I am not hearing anything new—just the same philosophy that spawned the factions, driving people to manipulate their genes instead of separating into virtue-based groups. I understand it. On some level I even agree with it. But I don’t know how it relates to us, here, now.
“But when the genetic manipulations began to take effect, the alterations had disastrous consequences. As it turns out, the attempt had resulted not in corrected genes, but in damaged ones,” David says. “Take away someone’s fear, or low intelligence, or dishonesty . . . and you take away their compassion. Take away someone’s aggression and you take away their motivation, or their ability to assert themselves. Take away their selfishness and you take away their sense of self-preservation. If you think about it, I’m sure you know exactly what I mean.”
I tick off each quality in my mind as he says it—fear, low intelligence, dishonesty, aggression, selfishness. He is talking about the factions. And he’s right to say that every faction loses something when it gains a virtue: the Dauntless, brave but cruel; the Erudite, intelligent but vain; the Amity, peaceful but passive; the Candor, honest but inconsiderate; the Abnegation, selfless but stifling.
“Humanity has never been perfect, but the genetic alterations made it worse than it had ever been before. This manifested itself in what we call the Purity War. A civil war, waged by those with damaged genes, against the government and everyone with pure genes. The Purity War caused a level of destruction formerly unheard of on American soil, eliminating almost half of the country’s population.”
“The visual is up,” says one of the people at a desk in the control room.
A map appears on the screen above David’s head. It is an unfamiliar shape, so I’m not sure what it’s supposed to represent, but it is covered with patches of pink, red, and dark-crimson lights.
“This is our country before the Purity War,” David says. “And this is after—”
The lights start to recede, the patches shrinking like puddles of water drying in the sun. Then I realize that the red lights were people—people, disappearing, their lights going out. I stare at the screen, unable to wrap my mind around such a substantial loss.
David continues, “When the war was finally over, the people demanded a permanent solution to the genetic problem. And that is why the Bureau of Genetic Welfare was formed. Armed with all the scientific knowledge at our government’s disposal, our predecessors designed experiments to restore humanity to its genetically pure state.
“They called for genetically damaged individuals to come forward so that the Bureau could alter their genes. The Bureau then placed them in secure environments to settle in for the long haul, equipped with basic versions of the serums to help them control their society. They would wait for the passage of time—for the generations to pass, for each one to produce more genetically healed humans. Or, as you currently know them . . . the Divergent.”
Ever since Tori told me the word for what I am—Divergent—I have wanted to know what it means. And here is the simplest answer I have received: “Divergent” means that my genes are healed. Pure. Whole. I should feel relieved to know the real answer at last. But I just feel like something is off, itching in the back of my mind.
I thought that “Divergent” explained everything that I am and everything that I could be. Maybe I was wrong.
I am starting to feel short of breath as the revelations begin to work their way into my mind and heart, as David peels the layers of lies and secrets away. I touch my chest to feel my heartbeat, to try to steady myself.
“Your city is one of those experiments for genetic healing, and by far the most successful one, because of the behavioral modification portion. The factions, that is.” David smiles at us, like it’s something we should be proud of, but I am not proud. They created us, they shaped our world, they told us what to believe.
If they told us what to believe, and we didn’t come to it on our own, is it still true? I press my hand harder against my chest. Steady.
“The factions were our predecessors’ attempt to incorporate a ‘nurture’ element to the experiment—they discovered that mere genetic correction was not enough to change the way people behaved. A new social order, combined with the genetic modification, was determined to be the most complete solution to the behavioral problems that the genetic damage had created.” David’s smile fades as he looks around at all of us. I don’t know what he expected—for us to smile back? He continues, “The factions were later introduced to most of our other experiments, three of which are currently active. We have gone to great lengths to protect you, observe you, and learn from you.”
Cara runs her hands over her hair, as if checking for loose strands. Finding none, she says, “So when Edith Prior said we were supposed to determine the cause of Divergence and come out and help you, that was . . .”
“‘Divergent’ is the name we decided to give to those who have reached the desired level of genetic healing,” says David. “We wanted to make sure that the leaders of your city valued them. We didn’t expect the leader of Erudite to start hunting them down—or for the Abnegation to even tell her what they were—and contrary to what Edith Prior said, we never really intended for you to send a Divergent army out to us. We don’t, after all, truly need your help. We just need your healed genes to remain intact and to be passed on to future generations.”
“So what you’re saying is that if we’re not Divergent, we’re damaged,” Caleb says. His voice is shaking. I never thought I would see Caleb on the verge of tears because of something like this, but he is.
Steady, I tell myself again, and take another deep, slow breath.
“Genetically damaged, yes,” says David. “However, we were surprised to discover that the behavioral modification component of our city’s experiment was quite effective—up until recently, it actually helped quite a bit with the behavioral problems that made the genetic manipulation so problematic to begin with. So generally, you would not be able to tell whether a person’s genes were damaged or healed from their behavior.”
“I’m smart,” Caleb says. “So you’re saying that because my ancestors were altered to be smart, I, their descendant, can’t be fully compassionate. I, and every other genetically damaged person, am limited by my damaged genes. And the Divergent are not.”
“Well,” says David, lifting a shoulder. “Think about it.”
Caleb looks at me for the first time in days, and I stare back. Is that the explanation for Caleb’s betrayal—his damaged genes? Like a disease that he can’t heal, and can’t control? It doesn’t seem right.
“Genes aren’t everything,” Amar says. “People, even genetically damaged people, make choices. That’s what matters.”
I think of my father, a born Erudite, not Divergent; a man who could not help but be smart, choosing Abnegation, engaging in a lifelong struggle against his own nature, and ultimately fulfilling it. A man warring with himself, just as I war with myself.
That internal war doesn’t seem like a product of genetic damage—it seems completely, purely human.
I look at Tobias. He is so washed out, so slouched, he looks like he might pass out. He’s not alone in his reaction: Christina, Peter, Uriah, and Caleb all look stunned. Cara has the hem of her shirt pinched between her fingers, and she is moving her thumb over the fabric, frowning.
“This is a lot to process,” says David.
That is an understatement.
Beside me, Christina snorts.
“And you’ve all been up all night,” David finishes, like there was no interruption. “So I’ll show you to a place where you can get some rest and food.”
“Wait,” I say. I think of the photograph in my pocket, and how Zoe knew my name when she gave it to me. I think of what David said, about observing us and learning from us. I think of the rows of screens, blank, right in front of me. “You said you’ve been observing us. How?”
Zoe purses her lips. David nods to one of the people at the desks behind him. All at once, all the screens turn on, each of them showing footage from different cameras. On the ones nearest to me, I see Dauntless headquarters. The Merciless Mart. Millennium Park. The Hancock building. The Hub.
“You’ve always known that the Dauntless observe the city with security cameras,” David says. “Well, we have access to those cameras too.”
They’ve been watching us.
I think about leaving.
We walk past the security checkpoint on our way to wherever David is taking us, and I think about walking through it again, picking up my gun, and running from this place where they’ve been watching me. Since I was small. My first steps, my first words, my first day of school, my first kiss.
Watching, when Peter attacked me. When my faction was put under a simulation and turned into an army. When my parents died.
What else have they seen?
The only thing that stops me from going is the photograph in my pocket. I can’t leave these people before I find out how they knew my mother.
David takes us through the compound to a carpeted area with potted plants on either side. The wallpaper is old and yellowed, peeling from the corners of the walls. We follow him into a large room with high ceilings and wood floors and lights that glow orange-yellow. There are cots arranged in two straight rows, with trunks beside them for what we brought with us, and large windows with elegant curtains on the opposite end of the room. When I get closer to them, I see that they’re worn and frayed at the edges.
David tells us that this part of the compound was a hotel, connected to the airport by a tunnel, and this room was once the ballroom. Again the words mean nothing to us, but he doesn’t seem to notice.
“This is just a temporary dwelling, of course. Once you decide what to do, we will settle you somewhere else, whether it’s in this compound or elsewhere. Zoe will ensure that you are well taken care of,” he says. “I will be back tomorrow to see how you’re all doing.”
I look back at Tobias, who is pacing back and forth in front of the windows, gnawing on his fingernails. I never realized he had that habit. Maybe he was never distressed enough to do it before.
I could stay and try to comfort him, but I need answers about my mother, and I’m not going to wait any longer. I’m sure that Tobias, of all people, will understand. I follow David into the hallway. Just outside the room he leans against the wall and scratches the back of his neck.
“Hi,” I say. “My name is Tris. I believe you knew my mother.”
He jumps a little, but eventually smiles at me. I cross my arms. I feel the same way I did when Peter pulled my towel away during Dauntless initiation, to be cruel: exposed, embarrassed, angry. Maybe it’s not fair to direct all of that at David, but I can’t help it. He’s the leader of this compound—of the Bureau.
“Yes, of course,” he says. “I recognize you.”
From where? The creepy cameras that followed my every move? I pull my arms tighter across my chest.
“Right.” I wait a beat, then say, “I need to know about my mother. Zoe gave me a picture of her, and you were standing right next to her in it, so I figured you could help.”
“Ah,” he says. “Can I see the picture?”
I take it out of my pocket and offer it to him. He smooths it down with his fingertips, and there is a strange smile on his face as he looks at it, like he’s caressing it with his eyes. I shift my weight from one foot to the other—I feel like I’m intruding on a private moment.
“She took a trip back to us once,” he says. “Before she settled into motherhood. That’s when we took this.”
“Back to you?” I say. “Was she one of you?”
“Yes,” David says simply, like it’s not a word that changes my entire world. “She came from this place. We sent her into the city when she was young to resolve a problem in the experiment.”
“So she knew,” I say, and my voice shakes, but I don’t know why. “She knew about this place, and what was outside the fence.”
David looks puzzled, his bushy eyebrows furrowed. “Well, of course.”
The shaking moves down my arms and into my hands, and soon my entire body is shuddering, as if rejecting some kind of poison that I’ve swallowed, and the poison is knowledge, the knowledge of this place and its screens and all the lies I built my life on. “She knew you were watching us at every moment . . . watching as she died and my father died and everyone started killing each other! And did you send in someone to help her, to help me? No! No, all you did was take notes.”
“Tris . . .”
He tries to reach for me, and I push his hand away. “Don’t call me that. You shouldn’t know that name. You shouldn’t know anything about us.”
Shivering, I walk back into the room.
Back inside, the others have picked their beds and put their things down. It’s just us in here, no intruders. I lean against the wall by the door and push my palms down the front of my pants to get the sweat off.